Smash Season 1 Episode 4 recap

It’s such a rare thing to have episode titles actually onscreen. These days they’re mostly for the production team and get talked about in the press. Anyway, this is “The Cost of Art”.

And the cost of art is boredom. Sorry, but this episode somehow felt ridiculously short and brutally long at the same time. And as usual, it’s happening because the only root-able people are getting the least amount of action and screentime.  

What is going on with Anjelica Huston? What scripts did she read that made her think “oh, this is going to be an exciting part. I’m going to get to do a lot, I’ll really have some range. I certainly won’t spend all the episodes scrabbling around after money denied to me by my ex-husband while still kind of lamenting him, but not in any sophisticated way or any way that has depth. That would be silly.”    

Which…is exactly what happens. The fact that she winds up getting an investor out of a 19-year-old child star sounds like shenanigans, and it should have played like shenanigans, but it was actually a boring conversation in a room. About a Degas sketch (which, from someone who knows NOTHING about art, was that undervalued?) that got more screentime than some of our leads.

Let’s just see here: Tom goes on a boring date that turns out not to be boring, except we never hear him point out what he’s so worried about happening; we do find out that he and Derek were once best friends, and that they discovered Nick Jonas, which makes me want to make many jokes and also is reasonable; the only person you hate as much as Tom hates Derek is someone who hurt you utterly.

Debra Messing’s Julia, who remains the most interesting character to watch (I loved her barely contained outrage when Ellis turned up at the party), still has nothing to do.  She hems and haws over Michael, but other than dancing with him during one of the numbers (which everyone understands is a completely neutral zone where whatever happens onstage is immediately erased as soon as the number is over.  Sorry, guy from West Side Story in high school)  she leaves him cold.  Okay, then…

Anyway, other than Nick Jonas coming to town, there’s really no plot for the “grown ups” in this episode. Oh, except Derek was touching another girl.  Yes.  Please fall off your chair in shock. Ivy pouted.

Before we leave the “party” scenario I should say that Nick Jonas really was very good in this episode, and also performed “I just haven’t met you yet” as a ballad, which is arguably nicer than the original.  Anyway, if he’s going to take a Justin Timberlake route of acting credibly while still using his singing talents, I can get down with that.

I asked earlier what Anjelica Huston thought of the part and the scripts. I really extra-super wonder what Raza Jeffrey, playing affably affable Dev, thinks.  “Oh, in this scene I shake my head in wonder, then chortle affably.  In this scene I chuckle at a gay man, but not in a way that anyone could think was in any way disdainful or homophobic.”  His actual scripted lines are “Just keep your head down” and “Things not going well, I see?” I hope his agent got him good money to be on this show.

Because it is not a good show.  It could be – it has lots and lots of opportunities to be – but the writing is weak and formulaic and the competition between the two girls, which is the realest part of the show, is being driven almost entirely on Megan Hilty’s sugar-sweet “laughing” deliveries of  “Um, let a girl hear herself!”

Because the truth is that art is imitating life here.  McPhee is pretty, she is sometimes fun to watch while she’s dancing, and yes, when they were all sitting down and singing, she has a nice voice.  

That is IT.  

I don’t find her compelling. I’m sick to death of her whining. When she told Dancer Double-Ponytail that she should have been trying to help her (Karen), I was thinking why?  You haven’t done basic googleable research to find out if numbers are on the stage, you haven’t asked anyone whether you’re doing a good job blending into the chorus, why should anyone take time out of their workday to make you marginally better at yours?

The only thing she has going for her is she might be sexy.  Ish.  I’m not sure yet.  But Hilty, for all she’s good and strong and has Marilyn’s giggles and shimmies down,  doesn’t actually seem like she’s seductive onscreen – more like she’s conscientiously ticking every Marilyn box.  Her Ivy is so much like “innocent” musical theatre girls I’ve known in my life that I bet she’s precision perfect on set (and yes, I know my actor/character terms are blending – I think that’s on purpose) but I don’t look at her and go “oh yeah, she’s a person who’s passionate, who gets into sex, who knows what it is to be swept away by something”.   Nope.  She has never once fallen into bed without brushing her teeth.  That’s the only advantage McPhee has.

But it’s not enough, onscreen or off.

Seeing as this show has succumbed to the Glee route of making the characters excited or not, troubled or not, based on what they need to happen in the episode,  
 in all likelihood because of the pressures of production which just keeps on rolling, week after week,  I’m going to predict the following: at the end of an initial run of 12 or so, which should take us through May sweeps, there will be a major retool.  Definitely, I would suspect, a new writing team to help Rebeck with the dialogue – because it’s not working right now, and no matter how gifted a theatre writer, she might not be accustomed with how every 8 days, you have to write an hour that’s better than the last.  

So that’s what I suspect will happen. That is, if anyone’s still watching by then.

Attached - Hilty on Monday arriving at NBC Studios.